Jeff Coleman

Jeff Coleman is a writer who finds himself drawn to the dark and the mysterious, and to all the extraordinary things that regularly hide in the shadow of ordinary life.

Saved by the Rain

Leszek Glasner/

In the end, it was the rain that saved Peter Norton’s soul.

He’d always dreaded gloomy weather. He was the kind of child who thrived beneath blue skies and endless sunshine and, whenever the clouds rolled in, like a neglected house plant, Peter would wither by his locked bedroom window and watch the open sky bleed. In each pattering drop, Peter perceived the haunting tale of a great paradise lost, and by the time each stormy day wound to its inevitable end, he’d curl up in bed beneath a thick star-spackled duvet and implore the sun to make a much-needed and sorely missed appearance soon.

This aversion followed him through adulthood and didn’t abate until the final day of Peter Norton’s life when the rain chose to reveal its long-held secrets to him at last.

At 73 years old, Peter could already feel the approaching storm even before the sky grew dark.

“No,” he whispered, “not today.” But he knew his prayer was in vain. Already Peter’s joints were aching. He tried to tell himself it was just his arthritis acting up, but when he pushed himself out of bed, shuffled to the window, and beheld the storm clouds gathering over the horizon, Peter knew it would be another sad and lonely day.

“Better make some coffee,” he announced to the empty bedroom, then trundled to the stairlift his son-in-law had installed three years ago to help Peter in his relentless struggle for independence and the hard-earned right to continue living in his own home.

Peter tried to maintain a positive attitude, but the joints in his arms and legs hurt something fierce and he could already feel those first cold and clammy fingers of the outside weather reaching into him, sucking up what little warmth and vitality he had left.

At the bottom step, Peter took hold of the walker he always kept beside the stairs and shambled forward into the kitchen, where he started a pot of coffee and sat down at the table to stare at the rapidly darkening sky.

It’s going to be a terrible day, he thought, and already his mind was reaching back to happier times.

Sandra had understood his rainy day moods. His wife of 37 years, she’d often sit beside him at the window while he pondered those heavy metal rainclouds in silence. Sometimes they danced, sometimes they laughed, and always, in the end, they made love. Sandra had never failed to lift his spirits during those dark and sorrowful days. But now she was gone and had been for going on eleven years. The house was dark and quiet, and in the gloom that crept inside through the sliding glass door, Peter thought he could glimpse his deceased wife, gazing down on him from above.

My sweet Peter, she seemed to say, and he could help himself no longer. The tears that were already brimming at the corners of his eyes started to flow in earnest, and against the cruel advice of a now extinct generation, Peter broke down and bawled like a baby.

All the pain and anguish of life’s empty promises seemed to rain down on him at once. Peter tried to control himself, tried to still those avalanching teardrops, but that terrible sense of futility and desperation overpowered him. It seemed to lodge in Peter’s chest, gumming up the works, and, in the midst of great hulking man sobs, it expanded like a poisonous flower in bloom and at last stopped Peter Norton’s heart.

Clutching at his chest, Peter’s head contorted, sagged, then fell limp against the table. All the strength seemed to go out of him until the final darkness of death crept stealthily into his field of his vision.

No, Peter thought. This can’t be it.

But it was, or so he thought until his drooping eyes caught sight of the sliding glass door once more and fixed again on the world beyond.

In that transitional moment, something inside of Peter’s soul transformed. Maybe it was the way the raindrops suddenly glistened in the fading light like falling diamonds, or the way they tinkled on the outdoor patio like tiny wind chimes. All Peter knew for sure was that, where once he’d perceived desolation, he now glimpsed something beautiful, something ineffable, something other.

His wife continued to peer down at him from her home in the clouds, adding her words to those of the soft-spoken rain. The harmony of their combined voices stirred something deep within Peter’s failing heart, and just before he lost consciousness for good, he discovered a profound and startling truth.

The rain hadn’t depressed him for all those years because it sang of sorrow, regret, and all things lost, but because it sang of the mysteries beyond the world and the secret paradise that remains apart from us on this side of death. Peter’s sensitivity to this otherwise hidden reality had always caused him great pain. Now, on the precipice of his own dying breath, Peter realized he was eager to cross the great divide and see for himself all that the rain had been keeping from him.

Come, said Sandra, offering Peter his final consolation. Come and be part of the rain with me.

And so Peter closed his eyes and, with one final swell of hope, did as he as told.

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Lord of Darkness

Tithi Luadthong/

Heart stammering, tripping over roots and shrubs, I stagger forward through the dark, fog rising up around me like gunsmoke. Beyond the fog there is nothing; I do not know which way to go.

Howls sound from all directions in supplication to the Lord of Darkness, the ancient, bloodthirsty god who seeks my ruin. The hunt is on, those canine voices say, and I know that if I wish to escape, I must be fast.

Gnarled roots push up from the ground like zombies from rotten, decrepit tombs. They grab at my legs, my ankles, my feet, and in the fog-filled darkness they attempt to pull me down.

“I won’t give up,” I shout, and for a moment those howling voices grow quiet.

I can do this. I can find a way out. I can survive.

Then a rock emerges from the earth below. Where did that come from, I think after my foot makes contact and I tumble forward into the soil. But I already know the answer.

The howling resumes, a rhythmic, ceremonial ululation that sets my teeth on edge and the hairs on my neck on end. I scramble across the forest floor, desperate to find my footing once again, but the vines have already started to close around my arms and legs, slowing me down, and when I look up, gagging in the midst of the thickening fog, there stands the Lord of Darkness himself, flanked by a pair of snarling death hounds.

He takes a step in my direction. I crane my head to meet his eyes, but those creeping vines have too tight a hold and all I can see are those fabled black leather boots, covered in mud.

“You have been a worthy opponent,” he proclaims, “but now the hunt is over and it is time for me to take what’s mine.”

“No,” I say, then cough. The fog has turned hot and humid and I find that I can hardly breathe. “No,” I say again, forcing the words out. “I will not surrender.”

“No,” the Lord of Darkness agrees, “you won’t. And that’s precisely why you were chosen.”

That background howling transforms into frantic, hooting laughter, and the hounds at the ancient god’s side inch closer, muzzles stained by blood and clay.

“I’ll fight you,” I spit out, choking on air that’s turned to poison. “With my dying breath, I’ll fight you.”

The Lord of Darkness leans close, and in a conspiratorial whisper, confides, “I’m counting on it.”

Then the hounds are upon me, and soon enough the Lord of Darkness is feasting on my manic cries.

Stephen King meets Neil Gaiman in this thrilling supernatural epic.

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The Tragic Tale of Agnes and Stephen

Poring Studio/

“You’re not supposed to be here.”

Standing at the foot of the stairs with her hands on her hips, Agnes stared at the man she’d killed almost thirty years ago.

“My dearest Agnes, did you really expect to get rid of me so easily?”

Face pale, lips blue, Stephen descended from the second story landing donning the same faded fedora Agnes had known when she was young.

“What I expected,” she said, standing her ground, “was for you to have the decency to remain dead.”

Stephen shrugged.

“Decency is not my strong suit.”

Agnes snorted.

“It never was.”

Stephen paused on the third to the last step and Agnes’s breath caught in her throat.

“Oh, I have missed you.”

Stephen removed the hat from his head and pressed it close to his stillborn heart.

“And I you.”

“I wish— If only—” But there Agnes stopped and could go no further. The memory was too painful to articulate, so instead, she just stood there in the tomb-like silence of her ancestral house, tears brimming at the corners of her eyes.

“You did what you had to do.”

“Did I?” Agnes turned away, shaking her head.

“You did.”

“I could have found another way. I could have tried…something, anything. You shouldn’t have had to die.”

“There was nothing else you could have done.”

“But Stephen, look at you. Look what you’ve become.”

“I brought it on myself. I was arrogant to think I could claim such powers for my own. The magic twisted me from the inside out, and every day I became a little less human. If I’d completed the ritual, if I’d allowed that demon into myself…” Now it was Stephen’s turn to shake his head. “You saved what little of my soul remained.”

“But Stephen, what will become of you now?”

Agnes’s late husband approached her from behind, brushing cold fingers against her too-warm cheeks.

“I will atone for my misdeeds in life, and when my penance is complete, I’ll move on.”

Agnes closed her eyes in a futile attempt to stop free-flowing tears.

“On to where?”

“I don’t know.”

“Will we meet again?”

Stephen came around to plant his lips against Agnes’s own.

“My dearest Agnes, I can assure you, our tale is far from over.”

“I love you, Stephen. I—”

But when she opened her eyes again to meet his gaze, he was gone.

Stephen King meets Neil Gaiman in this thrilling supernatural epic.

Pick up your own copy of The Stronger Half today!

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